The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror

Joyce Carol Oates. Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious, $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2488-3
Oates (Jack of Spades) convincingly demonstrates her mastery of the macabre with this superlative story collection. Though the titular opening tale sets the creepy tone, narrator Robbie, who has a thing for “found dolls” as an eighth grader, is odd enough that its denouement is less surprising than it could have been. More effective is the Hitchcockian “Equatorial,” in which Mrs. Wheeling, her husband’s third wife, begins to suspect during an excursion to the Galapagos that her scientist spouse may be trying to clear the decks for the fourth Mrs. Wheeling; Oates deftly manipulates the reader through this novella, in part by doling out key bits of backstory that dramatically shift the narrative kaleidoscope. And she truly hits her stride in the stories rooted in apparent normalcy, as in the George Zimmerman riff “Soldier,” and “Big Momma,” in which angry, unloved 13-year-old Violet ends up taking a horrific turn from the Jersey suburbs into the Twilight Zone. This devil’s half-dozen of dread and suspense is a must read. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Associates. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/07/2016
Release date: 05/03/2016
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